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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Connecticut

By · November 23rd, 2009 · 0 Comments · 1,580 views
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Statistically Speaking: Notre Dame vs. Connecticut

Editor’s note: I was at the Ole Miss – LSU game this weekend and was unable to watch Notre Dame play Connecticut. This analysis is directly from the box score and will undoubtedly lack certain insight that comes from viewing the game.

The Irish dropped their third straight Saturday, this time at home, on Senior Day, to the visiting Huskies. For the coaches, players and fans, it feels like 2008 all over again. The Irish had a promising start in both years, but faltered down the stretch.

This game wasn’t much different from many others this year. A strong passing attack led by quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd was not enough to overcome poor red zone offense, no commitment to the running the football, and a defense that cannot stop opposing rushing attacks.

Offense

The Irish gained 452 yards on 80 plays for an average of 5.7 yards per snap. Ball control was phenomenal as Clausen and company generated a time of possession advantage of over six minutes and the 80 plays run was second only to the Washington State game earlier this year.

Officially, the run/pass split was 56.3 percent in favor of the pass. However, when Clausen’s runs are removed, that percentage edges up to nearly 60. The first downs follow a similar trend as only seven of Notre Dame’s 22 first downs came on the ground.

Only 27.7 percent of the offense came from big gains as five plays amassed 125 yards (25 yards per play). Without these five gains the offense averaged 4.4 yards per snap, the middle of their output for the year.

The Irish were a tale of two halves on third down. Notre Dame converted five of eight third down conversions (62.5 percent) in the first half but only two of eight in the second (25 percent). For the game the offense notched a 43.8 percent efficiency on third down.

In the red zone, the Irish continue to struggle. Points were scored on all six red zone appearances, but only half resulted in touchdowns, one of which came in overtime.

Rushing

The Irish ran the ball 35 times for 123 yards, good for 3.5 yards per carry. Subtracting Clausen’s two sacks brings this average up to 4.2 yards per carry. Excluding Clausen’s carries altogether, the Irish averaged about the same amount.

There were two explosive runs that went for 42 yards (21 yards per attempt). Without these two runs and excluding sacks the Irish averaged 3.1 yards per carry.

The front five were particularly dominant in their short yardage run blocking. The offense faced short yardage five times in this game. A run was called all five times and each went for a first down.

Armando Allen led the way with 106 yards on 24 carries (4.4 yards per carry).

Passing

Clausen was his usual, extremely efficient self. The junior signal caller completed 30 of 45 pass attempts (66.7 percent) for 329 yards and two touchdowns. This equates to 7.3 yards per attempt and 11 yards per completion.

Three passes went for big gains and accounted for 83 yards (27.7 per pass) and 25.2 percent of the passing yardage. Without these big plays Clausen averaged 5.9 yards per attempt and 9.1 yards per completion, the latter being one of the highest values this season.

For the ninth-straight game the Irish surrendered at least one sack. The front five allowed two in this game (one per 22.5 attempts), but have allowed 23 over the last nine, good for one sack per 15.4 pass attempts. This value is almost 25 percent lower than that of last season.

As mentioned above, Tate and Floyd led the way. The former caught nine balls for 123 yards (13.7 yards per reception) and a touchdown, while the latter hauled in eight passes for 104 yards (13 yards per catch) and a touchdown.

Defense

It was a mixed bag for the Irish defense. Most of the game the front seven played well stopping the run, particularly on first down. The defense also played well in the red zone and on third down, surrendering only 13 points in regulation. But big plays and regressed production against the run were very costly down the stretch.

The Huskies attempted 48 rushes to only 25 passes, running the ball on 65.7 percent run of their snaps. Accordingly, the ground game accounted for over 62 percent of the total yardage and 13 of 21 first downs.

Connecticut ran 73 plays for 372 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per snap—one of the lower values of the year for the Irish defense. It was largely the big play that was Notre Dame’s undoing.

Seven plays gained 167 yards (23.9 yards per play) and accounted for nearly 45 percent of the total offense. Without these plays the per-snap average dips from 5.1 to 3.1 yards per snap, one of the lowest outings of the year.

Notre Dame’s defense was strong on third down throughout the game as Connecticut managed only three of eight third down conversions in the first half and only one of five in the second. The Huskies converted only 30.8 percent of their third down tries for the day.

The defense also played well in the red zone, allowing scores on only three of five appearances and only allowing a red zone touchdown in the overtime periods.

First down defense was also good for the majority of the day. The Irish defense held 16 of 33 first down plays (48.5 percent) to two or fewer yards and allowed only 2.7 yards per first down play through two quarters of football.

When fatigue became a problem in the second half, however, this average jumped to 6.8 yards per snap. Even worse, on the final 14 first down snaps Notre Dame allowed a gaudy 8.5 yards per play. Only three of these plays were pass attempts.

Rushing

Stopping the run was an important part of winning this game. The Irish were able to hold the Huskies in check for most of the day, but Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall’s firm commitment to the running game ultimately paid dividends against a tired Irish defense.

Connecticut ran the ball 48 times for 231 yards (4.8 yards per carry). Both values were second only to Navy for the Irish defense.

Without sacks the per-carry average climbs to 5.1 yards, but big rushing gains were really the story of the game. Connecticut had five explosive running plays gain 109 yards (21.8 yards per rush attempt) and account for 47.2 percent of the total rushing output. Without these five plays the Husky offense averaged only 2.8 yards per rush.

The first down run defense followed a similar trend to the total numbers outlined above. In the first half Notre Dame held Connecticut to 3.7 yards per first down rush and gains of two or fewer yards on nine of 15 (60 percent) first downs.

The second half was another matter. Only seven of 18 plays went for two or fewer yards (38.9 percent) while the Huskies averaged 6.8 yards per rush attempt. The final 11 first down runs for Connecticut averaged 7.5 yards per snap.

As expected, Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon led the way. Todman gained 130 yards and a touchdown on 26 attempts (five yards per carry), while Dixon gained 114 yards on 20 carries (5.7 yards per attempt). Without the two runs by quarterback Zach Frazer the two backs gained 244 yards on 46 attempts for 5.3 yards per carry.

Passing

While the Irish run defense struggled, the pass defense was solid.

Frazer completed only 12 of 25 pass attempts (48 percent) for 141 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The completion percentage was the lowest by an opposing quarterback all season against Notre Dame.

Frazer averaged 5.6 yards per pass attempt and 11.8 yards per completion, both ranking near the bottom of what the Irish have allowed in any game this year.

Two passes went for big gains, garnering 58 yards (29 yards per completion) and accounting for better than 41 percent of the Husky passing offense. Without these gains Frazer averaged only 3.6 yards per attempt and 8.3 yards per completion.

The Huskies averaged -0.3 yards per first down pass in the first half as Frazer completed only one attempt for minus one yards. In the second half things improved for Connecticut as Frazer averaged 6.8 yards per pass attempt. But the average was significantly bolstered by a gain of 37 yards to Marcus Easley. Without this completion the Irish defense held their opponent to -1.4 yards per first down pass.

Special Teams

Notre Dame’s kickoff coverage allowed its second touchdown return of the season, a critical play that tied the game after an 11 play, 77-yard Irish drive early in the third quarter.

Kicker David Ruffer connected on all three field goal attempts for the Irish and averaged over 66 yards per kickoff, one of the best performances of the season.

The Irish return game was good on punts, and very average on kickoffs. Barry Gallup and Theo Riddick averaged a paltry 18.8 yards per kickoff return while Tate and fellow wide receiver John Goodman averaged 10 yards per punt return.

Freshman punter Ben Turk put his recent woes to bed averaging 47 yards per punt.

Summary

The defense played well enough to win this game. Allowing only 13 points through four quarters of football should get a win. But a special teams breakdown and poor red zone offense allowed Connecticut to keep the game close.

The two turnovers and host of penalties didn’t help, but this loss was the result of problems that were present last year and through the first nine games of this season. It is difficult to understand how these deficiencies are repetitive, obvious and fundamental.

For the better part of the last 24 games there has been little improvement in any of these areas. Given their importance to the outcome of a game, this seems to be an indictment of poor coaching. The effort of head coach Charlie Weis and his staff is unquestionable, but the recipe chosen for success is either fundamentally flawed or poorly implemented.

The Irish have one game left to end the season on a high note. But, against another opponent that matches up well, the outcome could very likely be more of the same.

Furthermore

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